MX23RW : Monday, October 22 17:14:57

World Cup preview: Uruguay

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole looks at the chances of two-time champions Uruguay.

When it comes to World Cup pedigree, only a handful of nations can boast a better record than Uruguay.

The hosts of the first ever edition of the competition and two-time winners, Uruguay will go into this summer's tournament in Russia hoping to challenge for their first title since 1950.

The Uruguay squad lines up for their official photo shoot ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia© Reuters

Having reached the semi-finals in 2010 and the last 16 four years later in Brazil, the South Americans will be expected to trouble the latter stages again this summer.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Uruguay's chances in Russia.


GROUP

Uruguay will be the favourites to claim top spot in Group A having been drawn alongside the hosts, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the latter two of whom only have two World Cup wins between them.

World Cup Group A

Russia's home advantage could be the biggest obstacle to overcome for Oscar Tabarez's side, although the threat of Mohamed Salah's Egypt and a Saudi Arabia side that finished above Australia in qualifying should not be ignored.

First up for the South Americans will be a meeting with the Pharaohs, and they will hope to have qualification wrapped up by the time they face the host nation in their final group game.

URUGUAY'S FIXTURES

June 15: Egypt vs. Uruguay (1pm, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)
June 20: Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia (4pm, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don)
June 25: Uruguay vs. Russia (3pm, Cosmos Arena, Samara)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

The South American section of qualifying went right down to the wire with six teams separated by only four points heading into the final matchday, but Uruguay avoided any last-minute slip-ups by beating Bolivia to seal their place in Russia.

In the end Tabarez's side finished a relatively comfortable five points clear of sixth-placed Chile, behind only Brazil and above the likes of Argentina and Colombia.

Uruguay celebrate qualifying for the World Cup in October 2017© Reuters

Only Brazil scored more during that time too, although Uruguay's tally of 20 goals conceded from their 18 qualifying matches was the most of any of the four automatic qualifiers from the South American section.

A spell of three consecutive defeats from November 2016 to March 2017 threatened to derail Uruguay's challenge at one stage, but they remained unbeaten in their final four outings to see themselves over the line.

In all, La Celeste won nine, drew four and lost five of their 18 outings en route to Russia, eventually finishing 10 points adrift of Brazil.


RECENT FORM

Uruguay only had one World Cup warm-up match, and it wasn't exactly a game which would have suitably prepared them for the level of opposition they could come up against in Russia.

Luis Suarez was amongst the scorers in a 3-0 win over 10-man Uzbekistan in Montevideo on June 8, which was Uruguay's first piece of action since winning the China Cup in March courtesy of victories over Czech Republic and Wales.

Uruguay's players celebrate scoring during an international friendly with Uzbekistan in June 2018© Reuters

Uruguay will go into the World Cup on the back of three successive wins and clean sheets, then, but they have not faced a team that will also be in Russia since November, when they drew 0-0 with Poland just days before losing against Austria.

The last time Uruguay beat a team that will be at this summer's tournament was way back in March 2016, when they edged past Peru in a qualifying match.


SQUAD

Uruguay World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama), Martin Campana (Independiente).

Defenders: Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez (both Atletico Madrid), Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto), Gaston Silva (Independiente), Martin Caceres (Lazio), Guillermo Varela (Penarol).

Midfielders: Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria), Matias Vecino (Inter Milan), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Diego Laxalt (Genoa), Cristian Rodriguez (Penarol), Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey).

Forwards: Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Maximiliano Gomez (Celta Vigo), Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain), Luis Suarez (Barcelona).


STAR PLAYER - Luis Suarez

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez in action during his side's World Cup qualifier with Bolivia in October 2017© Reuters

The undoubted stars in this Uruguay side are Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani; the duo racking up a combined 69 goals for Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain respectively during the 2017-18 campaign.

Cavani has the ability to drop deep and act as a link-up player, meaning that Suarez is tasked with keeping defenders on their toes and scoring the goals to take Uruguay deep into the competition.

Despite finding the net 25 times in La Liga last term - a figure bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - there has still been talk of Suarez's powers possibly waning.

In the biggest competition of them all, the 31-year-old now has a chance to prove that he is still among the best strikers in world football.

That can only be achieved if he avoids controversy, though, having coveted headlines in the past two editions of the tournament for his handball - and subsequent celebration - against Ghana in 2010, before biting Giorgio Chiellini four years later.


MANAGER - Oscar Tabarez

Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez on November 13, 2017© Reuters

There are not many more experienced managers at this summer's World Cup than Tabarez, who has been in charge of the national team since 2006 and has steered Uruguay to the 2011 Copa America title and a fourth-place finish at the 2010 World Cup in that time.

The 71-year-old will be managing Uruguay at a World Cup for the fourth time in Russia, having also been at the helm for the 1990 edition before returning for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments.

Largely credited with turning the two-time world champions into a force again, Tabarez has also spent time in charge of Boca Juniors, AC Milan and Penarol, the latter of whom he led to the Copa Libertadores title in 1987.

It is with Uruguay that the veteran boss is most strongly linked, though, taking charge of the national team in almost 200 matches over his two spells.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1930, 1950)

Uruguay's players celebrate their victory over Ghana on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup© Reuters

Uruguay hold a special place in World Cup history having hosted and won the first ever tournament in 1930 - although they subsequently refused to participate in the following two iterations.

Once they did return to the fold they were soon back to their old ways, pulling off one of the most notable results in World Cup history when they beat Brazil on their own patch in the 1950 final.

That 1950 triumph at the Maracana remains Uruguay's last in the tournament, although they have reached the semi-finals on three previous occasions - most recently in 2010.

The two-time champions have only failed to qualify from the group stages on three occasions from their 12 appearances at the tournament, although four years ago they fell at the first knockout hurdle at the hands of South American rivals Colombia.

Overall Uruguay have played 51 times at the World Cup, winning 20 of those, drawing 12 and losing 19.


PREDICTION

With the quality at their disposal, Uruguay really should finish top of Group A, although the draw has been unkind to them from that stage on as they are likely to come up against either Spain or Portugal in the last 16.

Portugal will be the favourites to finish as runners-up in Group B to set up a showdown with Uruguay, which we're backing the South Americans to win. However, that could see them come up against France in the quarters, and Les Bleus may have too much for Tabarez's side.

VERDICT: Quarter-finals

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How far will Uruguay go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
5.3%
Last 16
10.5%
Quarter-finals
31.6%
Semi-finals
21.1%
Runners-up
5.3%
Winners
26.3%
Luis Suarez celebrates scoring during the La Liga game between Barcelona and Real Madrid on December 3, 2016
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TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City97202632323
2Liverpool97201631323
3Chelsea96302071321
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs9702167921
5Arsenal86021910918
6Bournemouth95221612417
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17Cardiff CityCardiff9126819-115
18Fulham91261125-145
19Huddersfield TownHuddersfield9036418-143
20Newcastle UnitedNewcastle9027614-82

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